Spire Ultra 8th May 2021 – Seven Things I Learned

On Saturday 8th May I completed the Spire Ultra which is a course around Chesterfield that, according to my Strava, is 32.5 miles long and involves 3,800 ft of ascent.  I took 7 hours 10 mins (6 hours 35 mins moving time) and finished 64th out of 86 starters.  It was my second Ultra and compared relatively well with my first, the Amberaid last year.  That was 31.9 miles long, involved 4,100 ft of ascent and took me 7 hours and 54 minutes (6 hours 46 mins moving time).

Incidentally, the winner of the Spire Ultra was Julian Hood who took a mere 4 hours 16 minutes.  Interestingly, Dr Hood’s marathon PB is 2 hours 37 mins, mine is 4 hours 28 mins.  So while he can run 26.2 miles in 58.6% of the time I can, he can only run an ultra in 59.5% of my time.  To put this another way, if the Spire Ultra was a handicap based on marathon times, I would have beaten him.  I look forward to receiving my trophy Jamie.

It was a great event.  I learnt a lot from the day and wanted to record the lessons learned in the hope that I take note of at least some of them at future events.

Lesson 1: Wear appropriate clothes

The rain was pretty relentless for the first few hours (or for all of the race if you’re Dr Hood) and unsurprisingly my budget Decathlon outer layer wasn’t up to the conditions.  After an hour, all of my upper layers were wet through.  It was also a cold day with a starting temperature of around 5 degrees Celsius.  My thin running gloves were soon saturated and made my hands feel colder that if I wasn’t wearing them.  My circulation isn’t brilliant and by the time I’d realised that I should take the gloves off, my fingers had stopped working.

I need to take more attention of weather forecasts in future and make sure I’ve got the right clothing for the conditions.  Strangely, the cold and wet didn’t spoil the day but my disfunctioning digits meant I took longer at stops and couldn’t use my phone to navigate as effectively as I would have liked, which leads me to…

Lesson 2: A recce isn’t a recce if you don’t pay attention

Two weeks before the event, I did a recce of around 20 miles of the route with some friends.  We had a fun leisurely run and enjoyed the lovely weather.  On the day of the event there were a number of times when I wasn’t sure of turnings.  A combination of the rain and my frozen fingers meant that I couldn’t use the GPX guide on my phone very easily and I found it hard to remember the route I had undertaken just two weeks before.  I realised that I’d really been a “passenger” on the recce and hadn’t made the effort to actively remember the turn offs.  On the day of the event I found myself another passenger, unfairly relying on others for direction and not contributing to this important part of the event.  I was very fortunate to have one friend in particular who wasn’t so lax in her preparation and who saved the day on a number of occasions.   Thanks Red!

Lesson 3: Be disciplined about fuelling in the last third of the race

The last few miles were hard.  I know I’m stating the obvious here but I’d made them harder than they needed to be by being neglectful over fuelling.  At the last stop, I’d taken so long to change my sodden clothes I’d neglected to fill up my Tailwind flask.  On top of that, I didn’t use the gels that I’d taken specifically to give me a boost over the last few miles despite the fact that they were in my pocket.  I am an idiot.

The main learning here is one of planning and discipline.  Any run over 20 miles is outside my usual distance and my head tends to stop thinking of anything else than to just keep going.  If I’d had stuck to my plan, taken my Tailwind and used my gels I’m sure the last few miles would have been less uncomfortable.

Lesson 4: I can go faster

While I am very happy with the improved time of the Spire Ultra compared with the Amberaid, I think there’s room for improvement that won’t see me a complete wreck at the end.  I clearly could have stopped less; while I had some brilliant support (thanks Jonn) and the issue is to some extent weather dependent, it’s a matter to consider in future.

I also need to re-think if I really need to walk every hill.  One great positive of the event is that I am no longer over awed or frightened by the distance.  I may have been over cautious in my approach to hills to date but I think that was completely appropriate in my first two events.  I now want to consider jogging up the gentler slopes and not be scared of running out of energy before the end.  I was tired at the end of the Spire Ultra but I wasn’t completely spent and I need to consider the marginal gains that will not zap my energy too much but that will help me continue to improve my time.

Lesson 5: I can go further

I used to look with envy at the super humans that complete 50-60 mile events but I’ve started seriously considering that they may not be beyond my reach.  Some events of this type of distance are over two days and I now believe I have it in me to do a two day 60 miler.  I’d probably need to walk even more and be really careful in planning and pacing but the thought is there.  Perhaps something to consider in 2022?

Lesson 6: The power of good company

On both Ultra events I have been blessed with fellow runners who have been fantastic company.   Their advice, encouragement and banter have helped me go distances I’d not thought I was capable of and would have been impossible for me solo.  Which leads me to…

Lesson 7: Set aspirations, share aspirations and be flexible

Pretty self-explanatory.  I’m lucky to run with some fine folks and we know each other well enough to talk to each other about pace and expectations.  These can change during an event and I think it pays not to expect everyone to want the same thing and understand they may change their mind.  I think communication is the key here.

Here endeth the lesson to myself.  I’ll hopefully remember to take my own advice at future events!

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Marathon from Home – 01/11/2020

A Last Minute Marathon (ten months in the planning)

“From first to last, the peak is never passed,
Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes”

Over Christmas 2019 and for the first few weeks of 2020 I’d trained for the Manchester Marathon.  I’d completed my long runs and was preparing to taper when the event was cancelled.  I subsequently entered the Tissington Trail marathon that was to take place in late November and had a revised training plan that would see me build up to my longest training run at the start of November before tapering.

On Saturday 31 October 2020, a second lockdown was announced in response to the increased incidences of Covid 19 in the UK.  The lockdown was to start the following week and so I decided that I would extend my planned 22 mile Sunday run by a further four miles and get my 2020 marathon done.  I had taken part in the 2018 London Marathon and, after following a “beginners” training plan, had still found myself only just fit enough to complete the distance.  While that day was an incredible experience, various factors had led me to exceed my anticipated four and a half hour finishing time by 45 minutes.  I was left with some incredible memories but also a nagging sense of unfinished business.

Preparation was not a problem as I’d need the same kit as the planned long training run.  The route was determined by the fact that I wanted to acknowledge the imminent lockdown by running from home.  The obvious choice was to run down the hill from my doorstep to the trail that leads to the Chesterfield Canal and the Trans Pennine Trail.  I’d calculated that if I turned round at Rother Valley Country Park, I’d complete the 26.2 miles at the bottom of the hill near my home.  Not finishing where I had started was perhaps bit of a cheat compared to a real race but as I’d planned to run the whole thing solo, I decided to give myself a break and not subject myself to half a mile uphill at the end.

I’d taken some charity sponsorship for Manchester and saw this as an opportunity to meet my commitment to run the distance.  I thought I could also generate a bit more for Cancer Research by doing an impromptu video on Facebook letting people know what I’d planned for the morning.  I was aware of the challenge of running that distance with no company and no cheering crowds.  I was able to ask for online support and was immediately cheered by some great messages from friends near and far.  This support continued throughout the morning, each supportive comment or thumbs up providing an emotional boost and adding to the spring in my step.

A hug and a kiss from Margaret (together with some queries about the last few miles of the route which didn’t really seem significant at time) and I was off.

The First Half (miles 1 to 20)

“It’s a test of ultimate will, the heartbreak climb uphill,
You can miss a stride but nobody gets a free ride”

As I set out I counted my blessings that the weather was perfect.  Some brief showers, a cool breeze and a temperature in high single figures are pretty much perfect running conditions.  My priority for the first few miles was finding my pace.  My plan was to run ten minutes per mile, allowing for some slowing at the end this should see me finish with a time around four and a half hours. 

There are two “halves” to a marathon.  The first half is the first 20 miles which is familiar territory as ideally you would run this distance two or three times when training.  I’d run this distance seven times in 2020 and during the last two times I’d finally found my body getting more comfortable with the distance.  The second half of a marathon is the last six miles, the unknown territory where the physical and mental test really begins.

As I reached Chesterfield train station, the showers cleared and he arc of a rainbow spanned the roofs of the buildings at the centre of my adopted home town.  Thanks to Professor Brian Cox I understand that the colours and shape are a result of the diffraction of sunlight by spherical rain drops but after the events of 2020, the sight took on a very different meaning to me.  Seeing a rainbow near the start of the run led me to think the morning may be analogous with the winter ahead; the solo run mirroring the enforced estrangement and the rainbow a sign that there was hope at the end of it all.

By the time I’d joined the canal, I’d found a comfortable pace and was in my running “happy zone”.  Training doesn’t just enable you to run a particular distance, it gives you the ability to enter a state of flow while running.  According to the dictionary, flow is “an optimal experience during which the mind and body work harmoniously while honed in on a specific task”.  It’s a great feeling and when you have it, you feel like you could run forever.

I made two more Facebook videos, one after an hour and one just short of two hours in.  The second was earlier than I anticipated as I wanted to share the wonderful autumn colours on the Trans Pennine Trail which were particularly vivid.  I reached the halfway mark at Rother Valley Country Park with a time of 2 hrs 13 mins, meaning I’d averaged a little over 10 minute miles and was exactly where I wanted to be.  I was very happy that I felt comfortable and strong as I made a small loop and turned back to make the journey home.

As I reached the canal, 18 miles in, I did another video.  I was feeling the need to put a bit more effort in by this stage and was also starting to feel the higher emotional state that I often find comes and goes near the end of a longer run.  At 19 miles I stopped very briefly to take off a layer and mentally check over my body (no blisters, no sores etc).  I’m not sure the stop was a great idea as the 20th mile was probably the hardest of the whole day.  The doubting voice in my head that pops up when I’m tired told me that legs had decided they would rather walk or better still, stop for a bit more.  What I needed more than anything right then was some sort of mental boost.

The Second Half (miles 21-26.1)

“It’s not how fast you can go, the force goes into the flow
If you pick up the beat you can forget about the heat”

As I approached the Hollingwood Hub building, I thought I saw Margaret ahead but she disappeared and I decided I’d imagined it.  Then as I reached the road crossing by the café saw not only Margaret but four of my brilliant running club friends (James, Red, Jonn and Sam).  After seeing Facebook posts, Red had contacted Margaret and had arranged for this most welcome of welcoming parties.  Their cheers and thumbs up (real this time, not virtual) were a fantastic boost.  My spirits lifted as I kissed Margaret goodbye, only to hear Sam ask if I minded if she ran the last few miles with me.  Needless to say, I was extremely happy for the company.  While I felt the same physical tiredness as a few moments before, my state of mind had dramatically improved. 

Ever thoughtful, Sam had clearly considered how to provide the moral support I needed.  This included asking what pace I was aiming for and maintaining that speed, chatting and staying positive, suggesting I didn’t stop to cross the road (when I really wanted to just stop) and encouraging me to visualise a supporting crowd.

A couple of miles from the end, Sam saw I was flagging (mile 24 was my slowest) and said “shall we have some tunes?”  After laughing about her first choice of song (the aptly titled Walking On Broken Glass) I found my pre-run Spotify track list and “treated” Sam to a bit of motivational Classic Rock.  Born to Raise Hell (Motorhead), Jump (Van Halen) and Born to Run (Frankie Goes to Hollywood) followed and I even managed a few pathetic jumps of my own in the Van Halen song, much to Sam’s amusement.  The power of music and banter was reflected in my pace; over a minute and a half quicker for mile 25 than mile 24.

As we reached the last mile I was ready to finish.  I stopped the music as we crossed Derby Road to reach the tree lined pavements of Langer Lane and heard the encouraging peep of a car horn as two more friends (Kathryn and Carolina) passed by on their way to cheer me at the end.  As we saw Margaret and my friends, Sam slowed so I could pass the imaginary finish line on my own.  I’d done it.

The Finish (miles 26.1 – 26.2)

Or I thought I had until a quick look at my watch told me I’d only done 26.1 miles!  A quiet profanity was followed by a few more steps and a circle of the bus stop until I saw the magic 26.2 tick over.  I stopped my watch 4 hours, 28 minutes and 12 seconds after I’d started.  Perfect.

“One moment’s high and glory rolls on by,
Like a streak of lightning that flashes and fades in the summer sky”

It’s hard to describe my feelings at the end of a marathon.  I find the end of the physical and mental effort quite overwhelming, an acceptance of the achievement mixed with relief.   The feeling of pride is something doesn’t leave you.


“You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don’t burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance
First you’ve got to last”

A marathon is a test of fitness and a test of will.  Do the training and the fitness will come but the will is a trickier part.  There are numerous things that can help (mantras, podcasts, counting) but I think the biggest aid to success is in the acceptance of assistance from others.  I was very fortunate that my “solo” marathon became something quite different.

We are currently in a world where we are all feeling a little alone.  We’re in the last few miles of this lockdown marathon but we are not running solo.  We will make it through by offering assistance to others and accepting help.

Lyrics by Neil Peart

Video links:

Before the start

One hour in

Almost half way

After 18 miles

Two miles to go

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From High Anxiety to Wide Smiles at Big Sur – 28/04/2019

April 2019 saw my 50th birthday. A few months before, my wife (Margaret) asked me if there’s any particular place I’d like to go to celebrate. At the time I had been listening to the Embrace Running podcast in which two enthusiastic Californian runners (Elena and Mark) shared tales of races and training. Two words were repeated at fairly frequent intervals on the podcast: Big Sur.

The Big Sur National Park is on the California Coast and one Sunday a year, one of the most picturesque coastal roads in the USA is closed to cars to allow runners to run 26.2 miles from the National Park to the seaside town of Carmel. It is often voted as one of the most picturesque marathons in North America and places are not easy to obtain. I thought through the possibly of running a marathon while on holiday and soon came to the conclusion that it would be too much. I didn’t want a holiday taken over by one event, no matter how good the scenery. Then I found out about the 21 Miler. It runs on the same course but misses the first 5 miles which are through forest in any case. In terms of effort (mental and physical) there are two halves of a marathon, the first 20 miles and the last 6. It goes without saying the last 6 are very tough so by entering the 21 Miler I still had a challenge but one that was more manageable in terms of training and being able to enjoy the holiday.

The trip to the States took me to several places that I’d always wanted to visit (San Francisco, Napa, Yosemite) and eventually to the tourist seaside town of Monterrey where we arrived on the Friday before the race. During the afternoon we visited the Expo to get my race number and load up with merchandise. The Americans know how to turn a dollar out of an event and I found myself leaving the Expo with t-shirts, tops, a cap and a mug. We celebrated our arrival at the town that evening at several of the craft beer bars and I awoke on the Saturday with a bit of a hangover. Not ideal race preparation but a day at the wonderful Monterrey Aquarium sipping water saw me ready for Sunday. I could write several paragraphs about the aquarium, it’s an amazing place. I still visit the Sea Otter webcam from time to time, you can’t watch it without smiling.

Race day starts early. We set our alarm for 3.30am to allow plenty of time for the 4.30am bus. As I waved goodbye to Margaret and boarded the bus I felt waves of anxiety build. I often get edgy before a race, usually a healthy mix of nerves and excitement but this was different. The bus takes the route to the start that I would reverse with my run. It was pitch black outside and for every hill driven down I imagined struggling to run or even walk up on the return. Would it be too hot? Would the wind drive me back? Had I really done enough training? Thoughts of failure filled my mind and I felt a little lost and alone. A bad reaction to a general anaesthetic earlier in the year meant my running had been put on hold for a couple of months and my training plan hadn’t been as thorough as I would have liked. When we arrived at the start I was a bag of nerves, convinced the event would be too much for me.

They say it’s always darkest before the dawn and this certainly proved to be the case in this instance. 20 minutes before the 6.30 start, the runners gathered in front of a small stage for a yoga warm up (this is California after all). As we moved with the teacher, the sky lightened, the sun rose and my anxiety lifted. As the runners moved in synchronicity, I felt my muscles relax and my heart lighten. I reminded myself of the promise Margaret had asked me to make when the event was booked; this wasn’t to be a race, it was to be an experience. I would stop to take photos, I would look around me and instead of trying to disappear into my mind to help the miles go by, I would be mindful of every moment.

At the end of the yoga session I made a point of thanking the instructor. My anxiety had lifted and I was ready to go. After a pause for the most enthusiastic rendition of the American national anthem I’ve ever heard, we were off.

The scenery is impressive from the start. For the majority of the course there are green rolling hills to your right and dramatic, rocky coast to the left. The road bends left and right, rolls up and down so that the views are frequently changing. The first couple of miles are a steady downhill and I took care to stick to my 10 minute mile pace and look around me. The mile markers are for the marathon so my first one was mile 7, already a good start I thought. They all have humorous images and slogans on them and you find yourself looking forward to seeing the next one as you approach each mile end. At the 10 mile marathon marker there’s a picture of a lift (or perhaps I should say elevator) with an attendant saying “Going Up?”. It’s here that the biggest climb of the race starts, the two miles up to Hurricane Point. This is one of those steady hills that isn’t steep but just keeps on going.

Close to the top of the hill were a group of Taiko drummers. You can hear them as you climb, each beat of their rhythm urging you upwards. As I reached them, I stopped for a few photos, at which point one of the drummers offered me her sticks. It’s moments like this that make this event so special. She took some pictures of me as I drummed along and gave me the biggest smile as I gave her my heartfelt thanks.

I carried on past the high point of the course and downhill to the Bixby Bridge. This bridge is one of the main landmarks, a wide span road bridge with distinctive supporting arches. Just on the other side of the bridge, a guy called Jonathan Lee played a grand piano in a black tie outfit. Earlier on in the race I had been chatting with a lady called Meredith who was from Salem and, like me, aiming for a steady 10 minute mile pace. We saw each other at fairly frequent intervals and took photos of each other at some of the main viewpoints so it was nice to see her here. She told me that this race was one that she had wanted to do for years but this was the first time she had entered and, like me, was bowled over by the scenery and atmosphere. We shared relief at the perfect running conditions (no direct California sun, no wind from the sea) and were on our way.

Other musical highlights included a bagpiper, a disco dancing dinosaur (which I took my worst ever selfie with!), a harpist with a three legged dog, an opera singer, a blues band and a school orchestra playing Seven Nation Army.

At the 12 or 13 mile point the route climbs and there is a sheer drop to the side of the road. I was astonished as a bird of prey rose to my left, flying into the wind next to me at roughly the same speed as I was running. I put my arms out wide and, for a moment, we flew together.

Soon after I heard a shout from a megaphone in a strong New York accent “Hey, shorts, move over, marathon lead coming through!”. The wielder of the megaphone was an assertive young lady on a bicycle whose job was to clear the way for the lead marathon runners that were about to overtake. Her “shorts” shout was a reference to my Ron Hill union jack running shorts that I had bought for the occasion. As moved to the left a very fit, very fast runner sped past me, his face a mix of heightened concentration and pain. He was Jordan Tropf, a Navy doctor from Silver Springs who won the event with an impressive time of 2.25.21.

More great coastal views followed as I overtook some of the 10 milers who were walking. The last 2-3 miles are inland with some mean but short hills. At the top of the steepest is an aid station that I’d been looking forward to as it was frequently referred to in the Embrace Running podcast. As well as water, the helpers were giving out handfuls of strawberries which, at that point, tasted like the best fruit I’d ever eaten.

The last mile was the only part of the whole course that I found fairly tough. The emotions of the day were pretty overwhelming at this point and at the finish line I burst into tears of joy, relief and achievement. A concerned looking marshal quickly came over to check I was OK but his worry soon lifted as he saw the smile on my face. The race medals are worth a mention, they are hand crafted from clay by a local retired judge called Kathleen Kelly. It is a thing of real beauty and a fitting momento of the event.

In terms of stats, my time was a fairly leisurely 3.40 and I finished 157th out of 713 starters. While I was a little surprised to finish relatively high in the field, it reflects the general attitude participants have. The running is secondary to the scenery, the atmosphere and the sense of wilderness on the course. It’s a lesson I have taken to heart when considering subsequent races. I’ll never be marathon winner, but I can challenge myself physically while using my running to take me on routes where the scenery and company are more important than the number of minutes that pass. On days like this, time seems to stand still and memories are created that are 1000 times more precious than a PB.

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Running Solo – Chatsworth Trails Run – 07/12/2020

On Sunday, due to a mix of reasons I found myself alone on my weekend run, ironically during the first weekend after the second English Covid 19 lockdown ended.  This is unusual but it hasn’t always been this way.  I’m typically happy with my own company and so it seemed natural that my running journey started with many years’ of solo runs.  I trained alone for my first 10k in 2011, my first half marathon in 2015 and the London Marathon in 2018. 

I never thought I’d manage to run a marathon and after the achievement of London I was left with many happy memories but also a lack of motivation to do anything else.  It was then that I joined my local running club, the Wingerworth Wobblers, which was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  The club has been particularly helpful in 2020, a year when so many have suffered from isolation as a result of the pandemic.  Through the Wobblers we have arranged a variety of events so that people can pair up with others, or as a group of 6, as the rules have allowed through the year.  I’ve made friends with a number of people who have been great company on runs and through their support my running journey has continued.

As I left the Baslow village car park and ran through the park to the north of Chatsworth House it took me back to my days before the Wobblers.  I was reflecting on how much my fitness has improved since then and how this has enabled me to cover more miles at a weekend, seeing more sights and climbing more hills.  I was fairly soon brought out of my reverie by a herd of deer.  While it’s not usual to see deer on the Chatsworth Estate (I once rounded a corner by a stone wall, only to come face to face with a young adult male deer with a fairly sizable rack, we shared eye contact for a few seconds that seemed much longer before he turned and ran) they are not usually this close to the house.  Despite being in the well-manicured environment that Capability Brown designed almost 300 years ago, there’s a sense of wilderness I get when I see the deer here.  We watched each other for a while and then I headed for the trails behind the house that wind up the hill to the Hunting Tower.  When I used to run this route on my own, this part was always difficult; a battle between my determination not to stop and the voice in my head telling me it was too hard.  As I reached the tower I reflected how comfortable it felt.  I now slow when I feel tired on hills and stop to take photos when there’s a view and I think both help quieten the self-defeating negative thoughts.

My route headed up to the Swiss Cottage then down to a crossroads where I took a left turn to leave the sheltered woods of the Chatsworth Estate for a track up the open moorland that leads to the top of the colourfully and accurately named Hell Bank.  There are often great views across the Derwent Valley here, but today I was welcomed by layers of cloud that was too thick for mist but too thin for fog, creating a sense of altitude and solitude.  That was until I met a group of six runners who were taking their time and clearly enjoying each other’s company.  Up in the clouds with the remnants of yesterday’s snow around them, they couldn’t have looked happier.  We exchanged encouraging comments and I took the muddy farm track that leads back down to the Derwent.

After passing the garden centre and heading into Carlton Lees I had a choice.  Do I carry on up the farm lane or add a few more miles to the route by turning left onto the Derwent Valley Heritage trail to Rowsley?  I took the latter, leaving the village by a mossy stone style and came into a field to be greeted by a calf and its parents.  The bull and I eyed each other with caution.  It showed no signed of wanting to come away from its family but never the less, I gave it a wide berth and walked to the next field.  The bull was on the top of a hill and I could feel its eyes watching me (or so I imagined) as I started to run slowly across the other two fields and didn’t really feel happy till he was out of sight.

There then followed a nice stretch through some woods and onto a farm track that seems guaranteed to be covered by a few inches of cow effluent, any time of year.  It was nicely churned up by a recent movement of cattle (no pun intended) mixed with overnight rain.  I soon reached the picturesque stone houses of Rowsley, and turned right on the farm lane that heads up into the Haddon Estate, passing behind the 12th century manor house.  After overtaking a couple of cyclists (always a satisfying experience) I reached one of my favourite spots in this area.  There’s a junction of farm tracks and footpaths with a view that leads down a small but beautiful valley towards the Bakewell Agricultural Centre.  Turn right and you head over a steep hill to another great view that looks back towards the Hunting Tower but the low cloud and the desire to do a few more miles led me to choose the downward track straight ahead.  When I was halfway down this track I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a female deer running at full speed on the other side of the low hedgerow to my right.  I stopped to watch it jump over the hedgerow a few meters in front of me and then over a fence on the other side of the track.  Within seconds it had raced down the valley and out of sight.  I waited a couple of minutes to check if the animal had company but there were no more deer, just my two cyclists friends who looked much happier as they freewheeled down the hill, covered in mud with big grins on their faces.  A cheery “hello again” and they were off.

I joined the Monsal Trail (a great run in itself with its tunnels, bridges and cafes) but soon left the trail at the old Bakewell Station and took the quiet lane that snakes past the golf station and up the hill to the back of Endsor.  Here my former hubris was met by a big dose of instant karma as I found this a real struggle.  13 miles in and, having enjoyed a few ciders the night before watching the wonderful Bellowhead reunion gig, I felt my former confidence disappear.  Slow and steady, I chugged onward, pleased to be able to stop to allow a Land Ranger pass by.  I had a few words with myself and decided to count to 100 while I ran and then count to 20 while I allowed myself a brief walk.  I repeated this three times and it seemed to do the trick as I was soon over the worst of the hill and onto the top where there are usually great views either side of the lane, but not today as the cloud had lowered.

I headed down the rough farm track that leads to Endsor and as I entered the picture book village I was given a cheery hello from several well-dressed villagers who had just left the morning service.   Over the road and around the hill (apparently built at the request of a former Duke who didn’t want to be able to see his workers’ houses from the big house!) then over the stone bridge in front of the house.

From there it’s a pleasant final stretch along the Derwent back to the thatched cottages on the way to the car park.  As I drove home I reflected on an enjoyable new route and looked forward to sharing it with my running friends one weekend.  I still find running solo an enjoyable pursuit but the joy of sharing days like today with others beats it every time.

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Amberaid Ultra 12/09/2020

On Saturday I did the first Amberaid 30 Trial Trial (my first “ultra”) and participants have been asked to write reviews to let people know what to expect next year. Here’s my observations:

Flora & Fauna

So I guess one of the first things you want to know on cross country route concerns the trail runner’s dual nemeses; nettles and cows. This year has been a “good one” for nettles and on the recce I did with my friends four weeks ago there were some spots that caused a few stings. By the early September date of the event, most of the beggars had died down and organiser Jamie had been out with pith helmet and machete sorting out the worst of those that were left. All four of my group wore shorts and we were fine all the way round.

In respect of the bovine beasts that occasionally try to spoil a run, I’m pleased to confirm that no toreador skills were required. Only 2-3 fields had cows in them and they were completely uninterested in us. I should point out that we walked the fields that contained cows and gave them a wide berth, which is always advisable.

Route Notes / Directions

We used the GPX route file combined with the OS Maps app on our phones to recce the whole route and it was a very helpful exercise. That said, you are given very detailed route notes a few days before and, combined with the GPX of the route, you’ve got everything you need to ensure you don’t spend half an hour wondering which way to go. I’d recommend you take special note of the location of the clip points which are well described in the route notes.

Support Crew Required?

While we were very lucky to have family and friends to meet us en-route, most of the participants had no support and managed fine. That said, you run thorough several villages so there are plenty of spots for people to park their cars if you are lucky enough to have supporters and ours were really appreciated. Also a quick word about my new Harrier UK Kinder race vest which was a fantastic help, packing everything I needed with no rubbing or sore bits!

Run, Walk or Crawl?

We took 8 hours to finish the route with a combination of walking up hills, running down them and steady jogging on the few flatter parts of the course. Most of the course is either uphill or downhill which is why the views are so great. I expect a seasoned hiker could walk the route and meet the 10 hour cut off time but the participants this year seemed to be split between the very fit people who ran the whole route and the rest of us who combined running and walking. By taking the approach we did, it enabled us to enjoy the course and not run out of energy. While 30 odd miles with 4,000 feet of elevation is clearly a relatively challenging thing to do, steady pacing at the start and fuelling all the way round (in my case a diet of Tailwind, Chia Charge and pork pie) means there’s no need to hit a wall at any point.

Views, Views, Views

From start to finish, the views are superb. Every hill climb is rewarded with another amazing vista. I’ve lived in Wingerworth, near the start of the course, for over 20 years and the route showed me several beautiful parts of my “backyard” I didn’t know existed.

Would I Do It Again?

Do I really need to answer that one? It’s an event with a well thought out route run by experienced race organisers who want you to have a good time over some of the best countryside you’ll see (and probably haven’t). Definitely recommended for 2021.

#firstlightactive #chiacharge #tailwindnutrition #harrierrunfree #wingerworthwobblers

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